Saturday, November 13, 2004
End of a taboo
Robin Cook's article in yesterday's Guardian (echoing a speech he delivered on Tuesday) about Britain's relations with America is significant, not because he said anything particularly new, but because this possibly marks the end of a taboo in British politics.
The 'special relationship' has always been more special to Britain than it has to the United States. But it has remained an article of faith for British politicians across the political spectrum and has tended to be criticised openly only from the fringes. It's been one of those issues where supporters of the established view inhibit criticism by co-opting the language of 'realism'.
It's therefore been easy to dismiss scepticism about relations with the USA when it has been expressed by the likes of Clare Short or Alan Clark. But Robin Cook, even though he resigned from Blair's government, is a former foreign secretary. And he has gone so far as to describe the special relationship as a "national delusion".
Following Cook's speech, the media tended to focus on his attack on the bombing of Falluja and ignored his wider criticisms. But the wider issues are just as topical.
Tony Blair's visit to Washington this week is intended to vindicate his Atlanticist strategy by winning tangible concessions from the Americans. If you think Blair will succeed, however, you have to believe that his voice will be stronger on the Israel-Palestine issue than that of the Israeli lobby, and more influential on pollution issues than that of the oil industry lobby. You have to believe that next year's elections in Iraq will bring the insurgency to a swift end. You have to believe that there will not be worsening trade disputes between the US and Europe. You have to believe that Bush will ignore the neo-con think tanks that advocate the US should actively undermine European unity.
It is reaching the point where even mainstream British politicians are asking what we are getting in return for this loyalty. If Blair doesn't deliver the goods, and soon, we can expect many more speeches and articles like Cook's.